Come With It, Black Man/ Tamara Tam-Cruickshank/ 2012/ 71 mins/ Documentary-Music-Biography/G. Made with the support of the Ministry of Arts and Culture, Patrick Tam and Starr Search Real Estate. Distributed by Caribbean Tales Worldwide caribbeantales-worldwide.com/catalogue /documentaries/come-with-it-black-man.
In half-made societies like Trinidad and Tobago, the experienced reviewer is not surprised if anything that reaches his desk is plainly unfinished, whether film, novel, play, children’s book or poetry collection (especially poetry collection, and particularly collections of “poetry” requiring an adjective, like “feminist”, “Rastafarian” or “inspirational”). The more certain an auteur or author is that he or she has produced a masterpiece, the more likely it is the unbiased viewer or reader will cringe in horror and shame. People who should not be attempting art at all pretend their very bad drawings are “naive” or “urban,” and are allowed to get away with it because the people pretending to be critics are part of the conspiracy to make the mediocre, not strive harder, but feel better about themselves. We hail as instant classics what really should have been put down at birth.
In that context, Tamara Tam-Cruickshank’s short film about Black Stalin, Come With It, Black Man is a complete success. In the industry phrase, she has “told her story.” Apart from a handful of perhaps overly picky criticisms, in only her second outing as a filmmaker (after 2008’s 31-minute Rastafari in Trinidad documentary, A Culture in Motion), Tamara Tam-Cruickshank has turned in a solid film, carefully planned and strongly edited (by Liam Camps). After one surprise bump at the start, the film flows seamlessly in illustrating, through a study of Black Stalin, the challenges facing modern soca music, and the very worthwhile music on which it was built, and which now may be lost.
The filmmaker is also clearly a very capable interviewer. In response to what had to be well-put questions off-camera, the on-camera responses of David Rudder, Bro Valentino, the late Pat Bishop and the timeless Prof Gordon Rohlehr together lay out the educated perspective on the importance of Stalin within calypso. Similarly, Maximus Dan (in his current incarnation of MX Prime) bridges the gap between what might be called the old school and the youngest generation of indubitably successful performers, Kees Dieffenthaller, and JW and Blaze. Excellent editing of solid interviews results in a highly watchable mini-bio of the Black Man, in which, in a very short run-time, the man himself, his impact on his peers and their music, and the very personal nature of his importance to many who followed him, such as Denyse Plummer, is properly conveyed: the filmmaker has told her story.
The ground covered is also particularly well chosen. From his start in calypso to his honorary doctorate, no important public moment of Stalin’s life or career is forgotten (even though there would be those, perhaps Stalin himself, who might have preferred a principal focus on the song Caribbean Unity (Caribbean Man) rather than the song (Black Man) Feeling to Party). The film also includes parts of some of Stalin’s most memorable performances. Come With It, Black Man is a well-made, complete film that does justice to its subject and pays ultimate respect to the most important element in film: the audience.
The most obvious criticisms come at its very start, indeed, even before it starts: although, at 71 minutes, the film just about qualifies as feature length, it is really a short film with a 12-minute prequel explaining calypso tacked on to the front, perhaps intended for the benefit of foreign audiences—the very first frame of the film locates Trinidad as a dot on the map, at once raising the question as to whom the film is really directed. (Tam-Cruickshank says the “main target audience is young people in their late teens to late 20s, as well as foreign viewers.”) The film quickly settles down to a bump-free viewing experience, indeed, does so even before the titles come up, almost 12 full minutes after the first frame. Again, the filmmaker explains the opening segment was “deliberately edited to introduce the audience to the issues... facing... soca and calypso, and thereby… why knowing Stalin’s music is important.” Perhaps the only strenuous criticism of Come With It, Black Man might be that no one, particularly fans as devoted as Tam-Cruickshank obviously is, should let Stalin sing entirely a cappella, as he does in some recording studio footage.
There will be a public screening of the film at Alice Yard on January 31 at 7 pm.